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Historical Vignette 106 - Winnie Cox

Women’s History Month lends an opportunity to touch upon the career of a woman from an earlier generation who blazed an advancement trail for future Corps of Engineers women.

In July 1917, 24-year-old Winnie W. Cox passed the departmental clerk civil service examination. Although she had completed a two-year college degree and was a teacher the previous three years, before 1919 women were excluded from taking more than half of all civil service examinations and were overwhelmingly limited to filling clerical positions. Miss Cox was hired in the Quartermaster General’s Office of the War Department earning $1,000 a year.

By 1940 she had progressed to a CAF 6 (clerical, administrative, and fiscal services grade) chief clerk in the building section of the military construction division. In December 1941 the Corps of Engineers took over military construction responsibilities from the Quartermaster Department and Miss Cox became a Corps employee.

Moving up the promotion ladder from junior to senior administrative assistant, Miss Cox ultimately retired as a GS-13 as chief of the employee utilization branch supervising twenty-five personnel technicians in the Office of the Chief of Engineers—but her move up the ladder wasn’t an easy one. Despite finishing her four-year degree at night at The George Washington University, consistently achieving outstanding efficiency ratings, and mastering greater responsibilities, Winnie struggled to break out of the traditional women’s administrative roles and her promotions often were met with resistance in what was a male dominated world—after all, women were not allowed to vote until three years after she began her career.

Miss Cox dedicated her entire government career to serving the Quartermaster General’s Office and the Corps of Engineers. Her dedication eventually served her well amongst her peers and superiors and earned her a spot as a Corps of Engineers’ distinguished civilian.

In an era of discrimination towards women, no doubt Miss Cox’s tenacity and perseverance helped pave the way for future generations of Corps women to break through the glass ceiling and achieve deserved success in their careers.

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March 2007